“That Blessed Hope”

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That blessed hope! What is it? It is not the improvement of the world, for “evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Tim. 3:13).

It is not the conversion of the world by the gospel, for the Lord Himself asked the question, “When the Son of Man cometh shall He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). And when He does come back to the earth He will not be welcomed by glad and enraptured multitudes but “all tribes of the earth shall mourn” (Matt. 24:30), “and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him” (Rev. 1:7). He will come to judge, and terror will take hold of the dwellers on the earth because they are not ready.

It is not universal revival of divine life and energy in Christendom, for “the love of many shall wax cold,” and “the time shall come when they will not endure sound doctrine” (2 Tim. 4:3), when they shall have the form of godliness but deny the power (2 Tim. 3:5).

“That blessed hope” is not centred in either the world or the church, it does not draw its inspiration from anything on the earth; it turns the eye to heaven, and amid the encircling gloom below the light of it glows with increasing splendour before the soul. It is centred in Christ—“THE LORD JESUS CHRIST OUR HOPE” (1 Tim. 1:1). It is the hourly expectation of seeing Him and being with Him and like Him. But it is not through death and the grave that we look for this “blessed hope.” Multitudes have travelled that way and they shall as surely triumph in the glad realization of this hope as we that are alive and remain, but it is not through death and the grave that we are told to look for it. The way of its fulfilment is most definitely and clearly described in 1 Thessalonians 4:15 to end.

“For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.”

And these words of the Lord are confirmed to us by a glorious passage in the resurrection chapter (1 Cor. 15:51-57), “Behold, I show you a mystery; we shalt not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Unless we are prepared to argue that words do not mean what they stand for, we must believe that the moment is coming when the dead in Christ shall arise with them millions of people—the whole of the blood-bought church—will be caught from the earth, and without dying will meet the Lord in the air to be for ever with Him. They will disappear suddenly and completely from every place, position and pursuit in which the world has known them, to be seen no more until they return with Him to reign over the earth

That this appears an impossibility to the human comprehension of things, we admit, and we are quite prepared to hear the scoffer contend that the law of gravitation will prevent it. But by the word of the Lord it is revealed to us, and faith lays hold of that and says, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.” And what says the Word? “The Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout.” The shout of the Lord is mightier than the law of gravitation. Notice how this comes out in Philippians 3:20-21, “For our conversation is in heaven from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ; who shall change our vile body, . that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body, according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself.”

The power that will bring this marvellous thing to pass is that power by which He will subdue all things unto Himself, until from His throne to the uttermost bounds of His infinite universe every force in every realm within it obeys His will. The power that was put forth when He rose from the dead, the power that his quickened us and delivered our soul from bondage of sin this is the power of His working.

We might remark that the law of gravitation is a natural law and controls natural bodies. But we are to be changed, our natural bodies will be transformed by our Lord’s mighty power into bodies of glory, like unto His own glorious body, and what law will control them?—not any natural law, but the law of the glory, and that law is that Christ is supreme, and that He will draw up to Himself everything that is of, and like, Himself.

The law of gravitation did not prevent the translation of Enoch; it did not hold Elijah when the time had come for God to take him up; it did not prevent the ascension of our own blessed Lord. How could it? He is the Creator of every law, and the power by which He went up is the power that will catch us up when He descends from heaven with that wonderful shout of triumph and pent-up love for His church. We know not the hour when this shall be, but waiting and watching we should be, we must be, for His last word to us upon the sacred page is, “Surely, I come quickly.”

That Blessed Hope (2)

The coming again of the Lord Jesus Christ is a familiar subject, but its importance cannot be overstressed. The danger is that it may become a mere item in our creed rather than a living blessed hope that stirs our souls to labour for Him, and to purify ourselves, even as He is pure (1 John 3:3). The scoffer asks, "Where is the promise of His coming?" (2 Pet. 3:4); and the evil servant says in his heart, "My Lord delayeth His coming" (Matt. 24:28). Yet the Scripture says, "Yet a little while, and He that shall come will come and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith" (Heb. 10:37). We must live in the faith of the Word or we shall surely drift into the spirit of the world. The "little while" may seem long, but we know the reason of the delay. "The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness, but is long-suffering, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2 Pet. 3:9). We know that "when once the Master of the house is risen up and hath shut to the door," multitudes who have rejected or neglected God's great salvation will stand outside that closed door and knock for admittance, but it will be in vain. Now the door is open and the Lord still waits in patience.

This is the time of "the patience of Jesus Christ," but it will surely come to an end. We rely upon His faithful word. In ancient times all the prophets spoke of His coming. The first prophet that ever prophesied said, "The Lord cometh with ten thousands of His saints" (Jude 14). Faith and hope waited more than two thousand years for the fulfilment of that word, but the due time came at last, and He came, but not to judge the ungodly but to save them. "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." He came to die and to be raised again from the dead and to return to heaven, but He said He would come again, and He will. It is our immediate hope.

It is remarkable that the first message that came from heaven when He entered there as the Victor over death was, "This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven" (Acts 1:11): and His last word out of heaven to His Church on earth is, "Surely I come quickly." We will not, we cannot, cast any doubt upon His word; we say in response to it, "Amen, even so, come Lord Jesus."

That we might not be ignorant as to the portion of those who have fallen asleep, and that we might have clear understanding as to the manner of His coming, the Lord gave a special revelation to His Apostle Paul, and he wrote that revelation to the young church at Thessalonica in these words: "This we say unto you by the word of the Lord . . . the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the cloud to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord" (1 Thess. 4:15, 17). That is the hope of the Church, it is a "blessed hope" for so the Scripture calls it; and it is sure and certain. The shout of the Lord will bring our earthly pilgrimage to a close; it will complete our salvation; for while we can say, as to our souls we are saved by grace, yet we wait for the salvation of our bodies. "Now is our salvation nearer than when we believed." Here is a glorious passage: "Our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall change our vile body (body of humiliation) that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body, according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself" (Phil. 3:20-21).

That shout of the Lord will be a wonderful event for us who believe; it will emancipate us from all that humbles us here; we shall be delivered from sorrow and sin, from sickness and pain, from mortality and decay. We shall see our great Redeemer face to face, and we shall be like Him. No words can tell what it will mean to us, but what will it mean to Him? His shout will be a shout of victory which will assemble all who are His to meet Him in the air, but there will be another note in it. For nearly two thousand years He has waited for His Church — His Bride, for this is indeed the time of His patience, but at that moment the waiting time will be over, and His shout will be a shout of joy as He receives His Bride to Himself. Then He will see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied.

And notice, it is "in the air" that His ransomed myriads are to meet Him. Now the devil is "the prince of the power of the air" (Eph. 2:2). The air is the seat of his government from which he rules the darkness of this world. And it is there where Satan's power is that the Lord will meet His own, and nothing could demonstrate His power over Satan better than that. If King George sent a message to his troops in the Middle East saying he would meet them in Berlin, we should say the Nazi power would have to be beaten before that could be possible. So we conclude and know that our Lord is Master of the powers of darkness since we are to meet Him in the very seat of their power, and that all their malignity and hatred of Him and those that are His will be utterly powerless to prevent Him receiving His own to Himself, that where He is there they may be also.

Thus is described the first stage of His second coming; His coming FOR His saints; He must come for them if He is to come WITH them. When He comes with them every eye shall see Him. He will come in great power and glory and the unsaved kindreds of the earth "shall wail because of Him" (Rev. 1:7). He will come as King of kings and Lord of lords to tread the fierceness of the wrath of Almighty God (Rev. 19). He shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power" (2 Thess. 1:7-9). He will judge the world in righteousness, and in view of that "God now commandeth all men everywhere to repent" (Acts 17:30-31).

"Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found in Him in peace, without spot and blameless. And account that the long-suffering of our Lord is salvation" (2 Pet. 3:14).